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Morning Wire: Pfizer’s vaccine development, ESD, Rural health care

DJ Wilson is needed elsewhere today, so I’m bringing you this edition of Morning Wire.

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Michael Goldberg

1. A Conversation with Pfizer’s David Hering on COVID-19 vaccine development

Our sister site, State of Reform, had the opportunity this week to speak with David Hering, Pfizer’s North American Regional President for Vaccines, as part of a virtual “Leadership Series.” During the one-on-one conversation, Hering told host DJ Wilson that Pfizer is on track to have tens of millions of doses available this year globally and more than a billion doses available next year.

Hering says it’s hard to believe how quickly COVID vaccine development has progressed over the past 6-7 months. The first gene sequence for COVID was available in January, and Pfizer quickly began working with their partner BioNTech to develop multiple vaccine candidates and begin early clinical trials. As it stands now in mid-October, Hering says Pfizer is in the midst of a Phase 3 trial.

2. Report: Washington State’s unemployment system is failing to pay benefits promptly

Working Washington published a report last week alleging that the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) has failed to provide benefits to tens of thousands of unemployed workers. Based on a survey of over 1000 unemployed workers, some of whom are still waiting for their benefits, the report concludes that ESD’s processes for evaluating unemployment eligibility have been rife with delays and errors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement to the Wire, ESD Director Suzi Levine said that delays in determining eligibility for unemployment benefits are the result of a spike in claims never seen before. The newly established Unemployment Insurance Advisory Committee will be an avenue through which the broader public can weigh in on the unemployment system and suggest reforms, Levine continued. Working Washington recommends that going forward, ESD should default to paying benefits, rather withholding them.

3. HCA outlines plan to reform Washington’s rural health care payment model

In a presentation to the House Health Care & Wellness Committee this week, Washington Health Care Authority Director Sue Birch outlined an alternative payment model for rural health care that runs through a $5 million CMS grant called CHART. The grant would deliver upfront funding to defined communities through a capitated payment model with Medicare.

Rep. Joe Schmick of Colfax, the committee’s Ranking Member, said smaller hospitals in his district “just don’t see a lot of money” in the $5 million CHART would draw down. While Birch acknowledged that $5 million is unlikely to “transform” rural health care in Washington State, she said that allowing the dollars to be spent with a greater focus on prevention and primary care is more important than simply “throwing more money at vulnerable communities.”

4. Efforts to increase affordable housing supply continue in Clark County

In 2016, Vancouver voters approved a $42M, 7-year Affordable Housing Fund for families earning 50% or less of the area median income. So far, $9M has been spent on housing production and $3M on housing preservation. Over the past five years, the Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA) says it has developed eight new projects that add an additional 493 housing units.

VHA is also looking at purchasing hotels that can be used for additional housing and shelter space. Looking ahead to next session, legislation building off of HB 1590 – relating to the use of local sales and use tax for affordable housing – could pave the way for these acquisitions, the Wire’s Shawna De La Rosa reports.

5. Wife of Vancouver Senate candidate verbally accosted while canvassing

Bethany Rivard, a teacher and the wife of 17th District state Senate candidate Daniel Smith, was verbally accosted while out canvassing near WSU Vancouver this past weekend. She recorded the incident over video, which shows an unidentified man berating her for passing out campaign literature on behalf of her husband and Tanisha Harris, who is running against Rep. Vicki Kraft.

“You’re a Nazi. You people are Nazis, you’re nothing more than Nazis,” the man said as he has held up a brochure emblazoned with Harris’ photo. Harris is Black. Her opponent, Rep. Kraft, said recently that “Hitler was a dictator” and “Gov. Inslee is acting as a dictator.” National reporters and Gov. Inslee have commented on the incident.

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